A first step towards reforming the global health emergency rules adopted by the WHO meeting

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo taken at the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2017.REUTERS/Dennis Barrebus/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Countries around the world on Saturday passed an initial U.S.-led overhaul of rules governing disease outbreaks, known as the International Health Regulations (IHR), the United States said.

Amendments passed by the World Health Organization (WHO) General Assembly were agreed at a meeting in what was seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the United Nations health agency to strengthen its role after killing some 15 million people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The breakthrough – an amendment to Article 59 of the International Health Regulations that will speed up the implementation of reforms – comes after overcoming early opposition from Africa and other countries this week.

The changes sought by Washington, and supported by other countries such as Japan and the European Union, mark the first step in a broader reform of the IHR that sets out countries’ legal obligations in relation to disease outbreaks and is expected to take up to two years.

Sheba Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, hailed the preliminary amendments as “a major achievement” and agreed to set up a working group to consider targeted substantive amendments.

“An updated, modern IHR will help all countries and will ensure we have the information, resources, capacity and transparency we need to respond to future global health crises,” she said in a statement.

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